Thursday, July 29, 2010

"But I'm bad at yoga"

In conversations when I mention that I'm a yoga teacher people often respond "Oh, I can't do yoga, I'm not flexible." Or occasionally I get a new student with some experience who classifies herself as "bad at yoga." Both of these statements are completely untrue and should not be uttered by anyone.

No one practices yoga because they are flexible but rather to become flexible. Or for those rare folks who are bendy, to become more balanced in their flexibility. Besides, flexibility is only one component of yoga, there's also strength, balance, breathing, relaxation and concentration. 

More importantly, yoga isn't about being good at it but rather doing something good for your body and mind. I like to remind my students that yoga is journey and not a destination. You'll never get to the point where you can say, "Yep, I've mastered yoga, I don't need to practice anymore." Yoga is ongoing because our bodies are constantly changing. As we age our needs change too. Younger people may need yoga to stay in shape and unwind while older folks may need yoga to help deal with everyday aches and pains. You won't be doing the same poses at 60 that you did when you were 20 or at least not in the same way.

I find it a bit troubling when students label themselves as "bad" because it means that the judgments that plague them in life have followed them onto the yoga mat.Your yoga mat should be at least one place where you can let those judgments go and simply be as you are. I like to ask my students at the beginning of class to let go of their ambitions toward their poses. I think when you set the tone of your practice this way it is much more enjoyable and frees you from expectations. So much of life is performance based why not make your yoga practice one place where it's not?

Besides the mental frustration and stress judgments create, they can also lead to injury. When you want to be good at a pose or try to force yourself into a pose you risk hurting yourself. Listen to your body, it will tell you when it's ready for something more challenging. I like what B.K.S. Iyengar says: "Challenge yourself, don't abuse yourself." One minute of glory isn't worth the three months recovery if you attempt a pose that you aren't ready for. Accept where you are in your practice and be content with it.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Funny things said in yoga class

Since it's summer I thought I'd take a break from "serious" writing and offer up something a little more lighthearted. Over the years I've collected a series of funny incidences that have happened in the classes I've taught. That collection is actually where the name for this blog originated. I've often thought that when I retire would write a book chronicling my life as a yoga teacher with the same title. However, with the advent of blogs I can share some of those stories a little sooner. Enjoy!

(I won't use any names or any identifying characteristics, but if you recognize yourself here, just know you will be forever etched in my memory and that I appreciate your good humor and willingness to laugh at yourself. This is all in good fun.)

Before I taught prenatal yoga, I would occasionally encounter pregnant students in regular classes. Usually I would just offer them modifications and alternatives to poses they should not do. One time when the classes was doing boat pose I motioned to a pregnant student that she should not do the pose. A man in the class, who hated boat pose, asked why she got to be excused from the pose and I said "Well, she's pregnant." He replied, "Then I'm pregnant too." I said, "If you can get a note from your doctor saying you're pregnant, you can skip boat, until then, you have to do the pose."

Speaking of modifications, I often tell students with back-injuries or those who are just not comfortable with cobra or upward-facing dog to do sphinx pose instead. During a very small class I had two women who both agreed that they preferred to do sphinx instead of cobra that day. One looked at the other and said, "I guess we are sphincters today." When the other woman and I cracked up laughing the same woman said, "Is that bad?" I had to explain what a sphincter was.

Another time in an exceptionally large class, I had the class move from hunting-dog into a core strengthening pose that involves moving the extended leg to the side instead of pointing straight back. The class was very quiet and serious but one student said very loudly, "I feel like a dog at a fire-hydrant!" The whole room dissolved into laughter. Thus was born fire-hydrant-dog pose.

Laughter in yoga class is always welcome because it shows that you are willing to not take yourself so seriously. However, there was a time when I subbed an early morning class that a student, who apparently felt rushed to get to class, complained afterward that I had started class a minute early. Truthfully, I thought she was joking and when I laughed she glowered at me. I said, "Really?" She said, "Yes, and I don't think that's fair that I've been late all week and and the one day I'm not, you start class early!" So she had sat through an entire class mad about a minute. Please, don't let a minute ruin your entire practice.

While students often say and do funny things in class, the teacher isn't immune to gaffs and blunders. It wouldn't be fair to point out my students laughable moments without mentioning a couple of my own. Going back to boat pose for a moment, I recall during another very large class of about 40 students that I was trying to show the different versions of the pose when I lost balance and rolled backward, still clinging to my toes. The class got quiet the kick out of that because usually they're the ones falling out of poses. See teachers aren't perfect either.

I also recall during downward-dog telling a class to instead of shrugging their shoulders down their back, to shrug their legs down their back. Usually, I catch myself when I say weird things like that but this time I didn't. Someone in the class said, "Huh? Can you explain that again?" I looked up to see the confused expressions on everyone's faces and realized what I had just said. I confess that teaching multiple classes in one day means that I repeat myself a lot and I don't always listen to what I say.